4/29/2005

'Pirates' Sequel Raises Ire of Indigenous Leader

Movie to portray Caribs as cannibals
By CAROL J. WILLIAMS
Los Angeles Times
April 29. 2005

BATAKA, Dominica - Sabers rattled and epithets rang across this lush tropical island long before the first crew arrived this month to film the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, natives are supposed to capture Johnny Depp's character, Captain Jack Sparrow, and spit-roast the swashbuckling pirate with fruits and vegetables "like a shish kebab," said Bruce Hendricks, the Walt Disney Pictures executive in charge of production.

"It's a funny, almost campy sequence," he said of a film also populated by ghost pirates and zombies.

But some of Dominica's Carib inhabitants are offended by what they consider an insinuation that their forebears were cannibals. They have called on the 3,500-strong population that is the last surviving indigenous group in the Caribbean to choose between fleeting fame and tribal honor. Chief Charles Williams asked his community to boycott the project, but most have welcomed the financial infusion.

The group is a minority on Dominica, whose 70,000 people are mostly of African descent. Disney argues that the film is fiction, but Williams says it draws on history. "Pirates did come to the Caribbean in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries," he said. "Our ancestors were labeled cannibals. This is being filmed in the Caribbean."

History books still cast the Caribs as cannibals during the time of the European settlement of the Caribbean that began in the 15th century but didn't reach Dominica, a tiny island in the eastern Caribbean, until 200 years later. But the indigenous people, the chief argues, were defending themselves. "Today, that myth, that stigma is still alive," Williams said, denying that the Caribs ever ate those they vanquished.

As newly elected chief of the Carib Territorial Council, Williams was approached by a delegation of Disney executives in October to discuss Carib collaboration on the film, for which about 400 locals have been hired as grips, caterers, drivers and extras. When the chief learned of the scene depicting Depp's character on the barbecue spit, he said the Caribs would boycott the production.

Other Caribs say the chief is taking offense where none was intended. "He didn't have the right to make that decision for the entire community," said Christabelle Auguiste, the only woman on the seven-member tribal council. She regards the filming of a potential blockbuster in her homeland as an opportunity to show off the island's stunning natural attractions and to raise international consciousness about the Caribs and their traditions.

"Throughout the years, there's been this picture painted of us as cannibals. The fact that some people might have had an arm or a leg in their homes didn't mean they ate people. They were kept as tokens of war," Auguiste said of her ancestors and their clashes with European invaders.

Source: http://www.williams.edu/go/native/caribs.htm

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